An advocate for neurodiversity and neuroqueering, Nick Walker led a discussion on issues relating to neurodiversity, autism, and neuroqueering via Zoom last Wednesday. Walker is the author of “Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities”, co-authors the webcomic Weird Luck, and is a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
An early topic of discussion naturally was the neurodiversity paradigm itself.
“Essentially the neurodiversity paradigm is saying that if [neurodivergence] is a form of human diversity, like cultural diversity or ethnic diversity, then saying there is one default normal mind, is like saying there is one default normal culture or default normal ethnicity,” said Walker.
An overarching idea in the discussion was on the idea of how the pathologization of autism forces autistic people to be viewed as disabled and broken and the consequences of this pathologization.
One example of this that was discussed was the differences between the social versus medical models of disability. The social model holds that disability is caused by a failure of society to accommodate people regardless of ability while the medical model holds that disability as something about a person that needs to be fixed.
At one point an attendee asked about the concept of masking, which is the practice of autistic and neurodivergent people to appear neurotypical. Masking would fit into the medical model because it emphasizes having a neurodivergent person fix or change themselves.
“The harms are considerable. The only times there are benefits to masking is when you are going to be subjected to violence if you don’t mask,” said Walker.
One topic that was brought up was Applied Behavioral Analysis, which was compared to gay conversion therapy, described as traumatic by Walker, and appeared to be opposed by most individuals attending the discussion.
“ABA is a cult. I don’t regard that as hyperbole or analogy, it follows the same patterns of any cult minus the existence of a specific cult leader,” said Walker.
“If you [a professor] taught gay conversion therapy, or even taught about it as a good thing and taught a psych class where you talked about ways to treat homosexuality, you would at least get an administrative reprimand, students would speak out, professors could get fired,” said Walker while comparing how conversion therapy for LGBTQ people and ABA are currently viewed by academia.
The event was organized by the Jim Chalgren LGBT Center and the newly recognized student organization Neurodiversity Community.
“The purpose of the Neurodiversity Community at MSU Mankato is to fundamentally empower neurodivergent students at the University,” said Bruce Wenzel, president of Neurodiversity Community. “The way we intend to do that is to facilitate the shift from what Dr. Nick Walker called the pathology paradigm, which is the view that there is one normal way for the mind to be configured and function, to the neurodiversity paradigm, which says neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity.”
Write to Jeremy Redlien at Jeremy.Redlien@mnsu.edu